Community Government As Basis For Local Government In Nigeria; An Alternative Reform Agenda 23rd August 2003 – By  Jaye Gaskia

[A police officer face an angry protester in front of a burning barrier following the removal of a fuel subsidy by the government in Lagos, Nigeria, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Angry youths erected a burning roadblock outside luxury enclaves in Nigeria's commercial capital Tuesday as a paralyzing national strike over fuel prices and government corruption entered its second day.(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)] *** [] ** Usable by LA and DC Only **




Only today, 3rd of March 2017, nearly 13 and a half years after this article was written I stumbled on it while sanitizing my folders.

A few comments are necessary at this point; first and most obvious to me is the startling revelation to me as to just how much my writing style has changed, but also how much consistency has been retained with regards to my views on what I called community self-government 13 years ago, and my views on what 13 years later I now call Community Governance.

Second, since a consistency remains between the views I held then and the views I now hold about this same subject, I have chosen mere to republish this article in full in its original with only the addition of this explanatory Cover Note.

For the avoidance of doubts, over this past decade, I have become even more convinced on the urgent necessity for the return of our communities to the path of formal self-governance, but one that is now built on the foundation of democratic self-government.

In the period between August 2003 when the original paper was written, and March 2017 when this cover note is being written, I have become more deeply engaged with, developed a professional career around, and acquired expertise, skills, experience and competence around issues of Democratic Governance, Participatory Development, Peace And Security, and Conflict Transformation; and all through this period my experiences, engagement with and evolving expertise around the issue of unrealized and or stagnating social development in general; and the constant breakdown of social cohesion within and between communities in our country in particular, have further convinced me that a major factor driving the phenomenon above is the absence of formal governance institutions at the community level, and the attendant inability to mobilise community resources for human and community development purposes in a sustainable and structured manner.

For all intents and purposes, as argued in this article our communities are ungoverned spaces, because they are not integrated in any direct and structured way into the formal governance processes and institutions which terminate at the Local Government level, meaning actually the local government headquarters, or said in differently, which terminates at the community hoisting the local government headquarters.

The impact of this anomaly is not only deleterious on the communities which are transformed into ungoverned spaces condemned to perpetual ruralness, impoverishment, and underdevelopment; the impact is also equally, if not more devastating on governance processes as whole in the country and catastrophically hampers the capacity and ability of this unrooted formal governance edifice to deliver effective dividends for the people, and enable citizens living in communities to be able to effectively hold public officials and public institutions and processes accountable to the people.

It is why for instance with respect to social cohesion it was possible for communities in the past to mediate disputes, enforce agreements, wage wars, but also enforce and build peace.

Unfortunately, with communities hollowed of their formal institutional authorities, and left with informal structures self-help structures existing alongside traditional institutions who are now called custodians of culture; we still saddle communities with the same, if not even more responsibilities from their past.

To be sure one is not calling for a return to the structures of the past; but certainly we can envisage a situation where a formal democratic governance structure, constitutionally and legally provided for is established on the basis of the framework of the now existing Community Development Associations [CDAs]; with the traditional institutions playing a formal but ceremonial role in this governments.

Such a a democratic community government will resemble an elected government that governs, but with a traditional institution that plays a limited moderating, and largely formal ceremonial role.

So we can have traditional rulers playing formal roles in inaugurating and or dissolving Community Governments.

This urgently needed reform of community government, seems to me to be the core, and the central component of the thorough going Governance Reform that is needed as one of the ways to ensure democratic consolidation, and assure popular control over the national and human development processes.

Of course next to this important piece of reform, is the reform that guarantees the existence and viability of the Local Government as an administrative coordination mechanism to ensure governance across a number of communities that make up the local government.

Again, a constitutional reform that guarantees existence of democratically elected Local Government Councils, and that penalizes the undermining of this democratic basis is urgently necessary.

With this few updates, I now invite you to engage with the original article and paper in its unaltered form.





Although one had become convinced of the need for functional, formal, and statutory Community Democratic Self governing Institutions and Structures from about the close of the last century, i.e from the late 1990’s and although one had also made allusions and reference, to this new position in various writing since then; this is the first time one will be putting down in a systematic manner, one’s views on this matter.


It is the ongoing attempt by the current regime, which haven brazenly stolen that popular mandate in a fraudulent electoral process, and haven become emboldened and intoxicated by the fact that it seems to be getting away with the scam; is now trying to reshape the polity and our social consciousness, in its own depraved image.  It is the attempt by this ‘illegitimate’ regime to “reform” the system of local government in the country in a manner which would make nonsense of the very significance, relevance, thrust, and crux of local government, which has finally compelled one to put pen to paper in a more conscious, and systematic way; and to address the issue of local government in a concise but also precise and holistic   manner.


But what is the background to one’s conviction about the need for community self government, that will be politico- administrative in nature, and that will have as its sole aim, the protection, advancement, promotion, and achievement of the Development Rights of the Community?.


Haven been part of development work in local communities for close to a decade as a civil society personnel, and haven observed and studied development work in these local communities, one has come to identify a major contradiction.


In spite of decades of community development work, local communities have remained, pauperized, undeveloped, and rural.  Instead, what we find is a littering of the community landscape with abandoned, defective, dying, and dilapidating Community Development Projects.


The reason for this, is the dispossession and disempowerment, of local communities which becomes enhanced and strengthened over the decades by the very developmental process designed to ameliorate the local conditions.



Development infrastructure come to the communities, from the outside; it is externally driven in terms of  funding, administration, etc and yet communities are expected to sustain  these projects, without a fundamental transformation of social relations, particularly the community’s relationship with, and access to structured political power.





What is happening in Nigeria today is not just the over centralization of power in the federal government.  In relation to the local government there is in fact a greater over centralization of power in the state governments.  When state government actors canvass for devolution of power, the local government system is not factored into the equation at all.  They, that is these state actors, in fact mean devolution of more powers to the state level.


As things are presently, there is no form of governance going on in local communities any where in Nigeria.  What communities are burdened with are decaying and incongruous traditional institutions, which apart from exercising socio-cultural authorities over the people, have no politico- economic authority of over the affairs of the communities.  Of course local communities have over the decades and centuries, evolved informal governance structures, such as Community Development Councils / Community Development Associations  (CDC’s / CDA’s), among others; these structure have remained politically powerless in terms of carrying out actual and formal democratic self governance of the communities.


The local government governs in any effective way only the local governments headquarters, the other communities in the local government area are excluded in any formal, statutory, accountable, responsible and effective way from government.  They may have representatives in the local council government, particularly in its legislative assembly, but these reps merely go to the headquarters to attend council meetings, and that is all.  Yet it is at the community level that the efficacy, efficiency, effectiveness and beauty of participatory democracy can be most manifested.


But alas, at the moment what happens is that all manner of development agencies from the federal, state and  local governments, to civil society organizations, and international agencies, all clear their own paths into the bemused communities, claw out their own breathing space, and proceed to put into effect, their own development agenda in these communities.  There is no synergy, there is no central community co-ordination and none of these agencies is responsible and, or accountable, in any effective, direct, or obligatory, manner to the communities.  In fact communities relate with these development agencies as they would with a messiah come to save them, a Daniel come to judgment.


Community Participation and so called ownership is built into some of these processes, particularly those by progressive civil society, through unequal encounters between community informal institutions, and the development agencies.


THE CASE FOR DEMOCRATIC COMMUNITY SELF GOVERNMENT                                                             


There is a very urgent and compelling need for communities to be allowed to evolve and nurture democratic self government institutions which will become statutorily and legally recognized, and constitutionally guaranteed.  Communities should be allowed to establish community governments which will be composed of elected representatives of the various segment to of the community; such as clans, compounds, extended families; and which will also include delegated (that is elected by their peers) representatives of the various informal groups and associations; including youth, women, and artisan groups, as well as from the CDC / CDA.


This community government organ should elect its own chair person, and secretary, and constitute committees to handle various areas of the community’s life, but with its sole focus being organizing, coordinating and leading community development efforts.


But beyond this as a government, it must also have access to statutory allocation of resources, as well as, have some categories of revenue that it should be left to collect in order to generate resources.  What this means is that communities should be allowed significant percentage shares of royalty and rent collected from businesses exploiting their natural resources, and operating in their domain.


This presupposes that ownership of natural resources will revert back to communities, who then go on to exercise control over their management, exploitation, and the distribution or disbursement of benefits arising out of their natural resource exploitation.




From the forgoing it is obvious that there is in point of fact a very compelling and urgent need for a reform of the to system of local government in Nigeria, but not in the direction which the current government and the ruling party are going.  The type of reform needed is in the opposite direction.


There is first, a need to rectify the anachronism involved in Nigeria’s half hearted three tier fiscal unitarism or pseudo federalism.  Nigerian federalism should be a two tier federalism between the federal union, and the component units, which may be states or regions. But within these component units the arrangement between their various levels should also be federal in nature.


Thus total revenue at the disposal of the component units of the federation should be disbursed and shared between all the ties and levers of government within the unit ie, between the state or region, and the local government and the community governments.    What needs to be done there fore is to set  about establishing democratic community governments that will be backed by law, and guaranteed by the constitution.


We may have minimum and maximum populations for communities to qualify to establish such governments, and also set minimum and maximum number of such community governments that will constitute a local government area etc.









Finally the question may be asked, what happens to the traditional ruler ship institution?  It should simply be allowed to decay and die out. Communities willing to retain it should be willing to bear the cost of maintaining it.  What must be sacrosanct is that the government which will run the day to day affairs of the community must be democratically elected. It must be accountable to the people, and its personnel must be subject to recall.  Besides, it must not be hereditary.


Our position is that it is only when communities have become this empowered that the urgent task of community self development can begin to be tackled in a conscious, coordinated, systematic, organized, and materially substantiated manner.


Communities must regain their capacity for self government and self administration which they lost historically to the emergent modern Nigerian state through the colonization process, a loss which has been retained in this neocolonial reality.




Jaye Gaskia



23RD AUGUST 2003.

[1] This cover note to this article on community self-government was written 3rd March 2017 nearly 13 and half years after the original article was written.



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